September 20, 2007

BabyPlus Inventor Responds: 'I Am Not A Quack. Also, Buy My Book.'

babyplus_logan.jpgDr. Brent Logan, PhD., the self-esteemed neurogeneticist/psychologist, is the inventor of the BabyPlus Prenatal Education System, the only prenatal rhythm sequencer-on-a-beltpack endorsed by both 02138 Magazine: The World of Harvard AND famous pregnancy expert Nicole Richie.

Logan invented the system in the 1980's after reading about some genius babies in People magazine whose parents played music for them in the womb. He's been marketing it to successive generations of well-meaning new parents around the world since the dawn of the Walkman era.

Last month on Daddy Types, I pointed out--for the first time in print, or at least in Google-able print, apparently--that the ever-shifting constellation of claims made by BabyPlus amounted to unverifiable pseudo-science, and that the company and Logan--same thing, really--puts on a tremendously misleading show of scientific legitimacy that's designed to tease $149 out of well-intentioned-but-clueless expecting parents.

[The details are in the original post, but the tactics include: citing unaccredited journals with scientifical-sounding names; padding the BabyPlus "bibliography" with multiple references to the same publication or conference appearance; claiming "presentations" to university faculty members as proof of the BabyPlus claims; and setting up a one-man "Prenatal Institute" in his house to create the aura of official, independent validation. Also, the guy Logan got the idea from says all his best inventions were the result of a visit to an alien spaceship.]

Once DT became the top Google search result for "BabyPlus + Harvard", I expected I'd hear from Dr. Logan, and last night, I did. He pointed out 10 "errors" in my original post, which I responded to individually. For clarity and entertainment's sake, I have reproduced them from the comment thread below. Enjoy.

[Note: The first plug for his self-published book, Learning Before Birth: Every Child Deserves Giftedness, available at Amazon for $14.50, is made in Error #3.]

The August 30 blog about BabyPlus, my developmental technology, contains numerous errors, corrected in sequence as follows:

1. For many years celebrities have utilized BabyPlus during their pregnancy. No testimonials were or are solicited, therefore public statements about the product by any individual are entirely voluntary.

Great. I never said they were compensated or solicited. Richie appears to have spent actual money on the product, but it's common practice in the baby industry to "gift" products to celebrities in hopes that they'll mention or be seen with them. This should be news to absolutely no one who's been in a supermarket checkout line.
2. In August 1982, People magazine and other media carried stories about the Susedik children, all of whom were several years advanced in schooling, and had experienced a range of sonic stimulation in the womb--but also received intensive postnatal enrichment. Whatever its cause, the consistency of their verified abilities caught my attention as an educator: The father's other interests were not at issue, rather the remarkable achievements of his offspring.
Again, fine, but not really disputed. The fact remains that Logan's BabyPlus founding myth as repeated to various published accounts over 20+ years begins with a guy who claimed aliens turned him into a prolific inventor. You could argue that this is utterly irrelevant. Or if you were skeptical of the near-miraculous claims being made by the inventor of BabyPlus, this may have a non-trivial resonance.
3. As detailed in my book, Learning Before Birth: Every Child Deserves Giftedness, the BabyPlus history profiles rigorous science: a comprehensive theory which includes an explanatory mechanism supported by decades of studies from the mainstream academic community, a pilot assessment under obstetric supervision with parents from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds--its results subjected to computer analyses of empirical birth data against published norms--a comparative, controlled, independent clinical trial monitored for standardized cognitive and social skills over nine years, impoverished and single mothers included, by a physician team of developmental specialists, with all aspects of these components appearing in peer-reviewed professional journals.
Set aside my cynicism at the idea that If parents-to-be want to see the actual proof, they should buy Logan's book AND THEN buy the gear on top of it. If such persuasive, documented, and accredited scientific proof for the various claims made by BabyPlus really IS in Logan's book, I would suggest putting some of it on the BabyPlus site.

The claims made by BabyPlus--I included just nine [in the original post], and the specifics vary significantly over time and across different non-scientific media--include the somewhat measurable [e.g., more relaxed, longer attention span] to the mushy subjective [e.g., nurses more readily, improved school readiness].

The real problem here--which Logan does not mention--is that almost every claimed benefit of the BabyPlus system as well as the underlying theories of synapse stimulation and fetal brain cell preservation are inherently untestable under the mainstream medical scientific community's standards. i.e., you can't conduct research on fetuses.

The postnatal effects, meanwhile could theoretically be identified by statistical correlation studies, the kind that show connections, but not "causes" per se. The methodology for these types of studies is widely understood and accepted. It's used to identify the relationship between TV watching and violent behavior; or between Bisphenol A and behavioral problems and childhood obesity. [Good thing there's nothing controversial about that.]

The result is a scientific credibility gap which is filled with the essentially unmeasurable and hence unverifiable, subjective claims on BabyPlus's site; the misleading, pseudo-scientific exercises of unaccredited promotional groups like APPPAH [see below, 10:56 comment]; and a heavy reliance on dramatic personal anecdotes and testimonials. If it were just a bunch of moms singing "I love BabyPlus," that'd be fine; instead, this unverifiable anecdotery is all dressed up with the trappings of scientific legitimacy that don't withstand scrutiny. This resonates--unintentionally, I'm sure--with Logan's offer to test the BabyPlus ourselves. "Try it, you'll like it" is an appeal from the world of taste, not science.

4. The integrity of this discovery's coverage in major venues such as the New York Times, London Times, Wall Street Journal, Time, CNN, BBC, and The Learning Channel, among hundreds of reports by equally credentialed media (all listed on www.babyplus.com and www.brentlogan.net), speaks for itself.
I totally agree, though I think I also totally disagree with Logan on what it says. I didn't search Nexis, but I couldn't find a single published article questioning or even examining the BabyPlus's scientific claims in depth; they all accepted Logan's expert [sic] explanations unchallenged or merely reported them as his "beliefs" and let the credentials do the persuading. Here's The Manila Times, circa 1996:
Logan heads the BabyPlus Company and has conducted neurogenetic research at the Prenatal Institute in Washington since 1982. Among his findings were that newborn babies lose a significantcant amount of brain cells due to stress. Through sonic stimulation, Logan believes that this natural brain cell death will be minimized. Sonic stimulation's other benefits: long attention spans, parental voice recognition at birth, increased physical strength, early coordination and walking, and early language acquisition.

Significantly, I never found any articles that discussed the Prenatal Institute, either. It's either a devastating reflection on the state of popular science reporting or damning evidence of the perceived irrelevance of the BabyPlus's claims that no one's apparently bothered to factcheck a story on them in 20 years.

5. 10,000 BabyPlus units were contributed to China, 5000 to Russia, and 500 to an innercity Indianapolis program--not audiocassete tapes but microchip sound generators--with 22 non-franchised distributorships worldwide, accounting for 150,000 births to date, including multiple usage; the oldest advantaged youths are now age 20.
Fine. details not in the BabyPlus literature. Here's a 1990 report from a publication called "Hospital Doctor":
Uncomfortable births and unhappy babies could be a thing of the past if the methods of a US psychologist are as effective as he claims.
Dr. Brent Logan, from Washington, has produced a set of tapes which, he says, reduce complications in pregnancy by stimulating the fetal nervous system.
Fitted into a belt worn around a pregnant woman’s abdomen, the cassettes, called Babytapes, produce cardiac-like sounds which become more complex as pregnancy progresses.
Grand, unsubstantiated claims for a product called Babytapes? Speaks for itself, I guess.
6. Prenatal Institute, a nonprofit Washington State corporation, was founded in 1983, maintains a Seattle address, has affiliate operations in five countries, and since 1995 actively occupies one-third of a 3000-square-foot facility; its charter specifies neurogenetic research and development, addressing a wide range of projects besides BabyPlus.
So I was right, except in my characterization of a 3000-sf house as "small." duly noted.
7. My peer-reviewed articles have been published in the International Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Medicine, The Royal College of General Practitioners Official Reference Book, Prenatal Perception, Learning, and Bonding, Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Medicine, Prenatal Psychology News, and the Pre and Perinatal Psychology Journal; the latter organ's professional organization, the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health has for over two decades been comprised of leading psychologists, psychiatrists, physicians, pediatricians, neuroscientists, educators, and nurses, all pioneering a completely new field of research which, like any scientific advance, is being steadily acknowledged by the traditional community of colleagues. Congress presentations of my work and their corresponding publication are both cited because the former--usually available shortly thereafter on recordings--are often supplemented in later print by further findings which attendees wish to review.

see the 10:56pm comment below [which points out that the peers doing the reviewing for most of those publications are fellow quacks who can't find anywhere legitimate to publish their unscientific research, either]. On the APPPAH issue, I swear, I'm not one of those white-lab-coated curmudgeons who covers his ears if it doesn't come from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

But for the same two decades, the mainstream academic/scientific/medical community has been shunning the APPPAH, which does not help its credibility. Neither, frankly, does the wildly unprofessional ramble that comprises the APPPAH's history. With its boosterish tones and ubiquitous obsession with the question of acceptance of prenatal psychology, the APPPAH's website seems to me like little more than an advocacy group, craving scientific legitimacy. BabyPlus's claims are all made in scientific terms when, in fact, they stem from this remarkably uncritical, self-interested organization of true believers. That a conference full of psychologists can't see this is frankly baffling to me.

As for the Royal College of General Practitioners Official Reference Book, here is what Helen Farrelly, the Publications Manager for the RCGP wrote:

Thank you for your enquiry regarding the article entitled “Fetal Sonic Stimulation” by Dr Brent Logan, which appeared in members’ yearbook entitled the Members’ Reference Book, an annual review-type publication for members of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP). This publication ceased in 2002...

This article was review-type in style and would thus not be subjected to a rigid peer review process in the manner that articles based on original research would be. The author was an employee of the Prenatal Institute, the manufacturer of the BabyPlus product featured in the article at the time the article was written. The article was accompanied by an ad for the product in question.

The RCGP cannot therefore comment on the accuracy or independence of findings of this article. Whether this article constitutes sufficient evidence in support of the author’s or manufacturer’s claims is also not a matter that the College can be called to comment on and this is something that you should seek to address by other means.

Indeed. Perhaps Dr. Logan would like to provide a scan of the unreviewed article he wrote running next to the ad he paid for. Perhaps there is also a Yellow Pages ad for BabyPlus that adds further support.
8. Linguistic differences and cultural interests reflect how BabyPlus is characterized in various countries; these descriptions merely address local priorities rather than alter the innovation's essence.
The claims I cite are all in English, which eliminates the notion of linguistic differences. If the "innovation's essence" were actually measurable, demonstrable data, I would expect a lot less "cultural interest"-specific characterizations. On the other hand, if I had a product to sell, I'd try and figure out what the right local parental buttons to push were, and then claim hey, that's exactly what my product does! What're the odds?
9. Along with software copyrights and tradenames, my BabyPlus patenting process began in 1986 with its initial application, supported by provision to the United States Patent Office of professional papers, videocassettes, and media reports so that appropriate evaluation of the invention could proceed; the finally-issued patents referenced even remote--but not conflicting--prior art, which is a required part of any intellectual property's search for precedence; issuance of the key patents finally took place in 2002 and 2006.
Again, yes. The prior art in question includes multiple sonic/audio fetal stimulation devices and belts. What I just noticed was that the claims in the patent are actually for treatment of "accelerating or decelerating cortical alpha rhythms" in a "postnatal human" or "premature baby." Which appears to me to have nothing at all to do with intrauterine development at all. But then, in addition to not being a neurogenetic psychologist, I'm also not a patent lawyer.

The fact remains that the filing date on the patent was Feb 8, 2002. Does that mean there was an initial application filed in 1986 which was withdrawn or rejected?

10. Commercialization of BabyPlus did not commence until 1989, seven years after my theory was postulated, and four years from the onset of testing.
ok.
Had the blog's author read my seminal articles--appearing in their entirety on www.brentlogan.net--the independent clinical trial publication on www.babyplus.com, my book, Learning Before Birth, Sarah Brewer's Super Baby (herself an M.D. who used BabyPlus), or Armin Brott's The Expectant Father, the above emendations would have been unnecessary. But becoming informed about any genuine breakthrough requires effort beyond the superficial, and this opportunity to respond factually is much appreciated.

Brent Logan, Ph.D., Director
Prenatal Institute, Seattle
brentlogan@mindspring.com

I approached BabyPlus as a consumer/parent would, researching and characterizing the claims made on the BabyPlus site, the articles cited and reproduced on BabyPlus, and I then followed up by researching the claimed independent scientific validation of the BabyPlus technology. All of these were found severely lacking, unpersuasive, or misleading in their characterization as detailed [in the original "Stupid Parents" post].

In addition, I took the step of tracking down the one remaining legitimate-sounding citation on the BabyPlus site, the RCGP Handbook, and while I'm still waiting to receive a hard copy of the article--and the BabyPlus ad running with it--the RCGP's characterization of the Handbook in no way matches the context in which BabyPlus cites it, i.e., as scientifically recognized validation of the company's claims.

I just can't see how a scientific or medical claim can be put forward for a product and then supported by "read my book, read my self-published white paper where I find my theories and claims to be valid." What of BabyPlus's claimed benefits are supported by Sarah Brewer and Armin Brott? There's no mention of Brott's endorsement on the BabyPlus site, is there?

And finally--for the moment--this comment: "But becoming informed about any genuine breakthrough requires effort beyond the superficial" is exactly why I took the effort to look at the superficially scientific-sounding claims BabyPlus has been making, because once you look more closely, they fall apart, or at least turn out to be much much less than "scientific."

And yet, they rely on a combination of perceived authority, credentials, shallow media recitations, and misrepresentations of scientific validity to dupe unsuspecting parents into throwing away $150--plus the cost of the book.

While I was writing these, Dr. Logan responded several additional times in the comments, all/most in a similar fashion, including this request for my credentials "if any" to question BabyPlus's claims:

...For the sake of veracity try to avoid ad hominem arguments, and feel free to query me before posting if you want yours to be an investigation demonstrating fairness. Also, I might suggest that should you personally like to evaluate BabyPlus--in your family or with friends or associates--please let me know and I will see that you receive a unit, gratis. Finally, to demonstrate we are being absolutely up front, your full name and credentials--if any--would be appropriate.
Personally, I find an over-emphasis of credentials--which, as we see, can be easily conjured up and distorted--to be part of the problem with BabyPlus and their ilk, but I complied to Dr. Logan's request. I will point out I killed on the SAT.

23 Comments

All interesting points, Greg, but you can't dispute the fact that Nicole Richie DID buy one of these. That's the only endorsement that I need.

[Well, if Nicole bought HEROIN would you--oh wait, scratch that. -ed.]

I'd have an easier time getting my pregnant wife to wear a panama hat and a monocle than one of those ugly-ass fanny packs.

And I just don't get how richie could wear one without suspenders.

[actually, the suspenders are coming out in the Spring. pretty sure they were at ABC in Vegas. -ed.]

All I know is I've been walking around since August with one of these things strapped to my gut, and our kid still can't get through the alphabet without prompting. I'm starting to feel like I've been had.

[turn it up to 11. -ed.]

Dear Mr. Allen:

For reasons you might never suspect but discriminating readers can surmise, without any serious effort to engage the substance of BabyPlus as articulated in my peer-reviewed articles and book, Learning Before Birth--let alone an independent clinical trial appearing on www.babyplus.com--you continue with gross misinformation, repeated untruths, snappy banalities, and personal slurs . . . all to the disservice of expectant parents. Fortunately, such tactics defeat themselves, and, because of this fatal flaw, daddytypes will remain a miniscule backwater in the blogscape.

Shame being at a premium, enjoy your prejudice while the nanosecond lasts,

Brent Logan

PS--My rebuttals to your above remarks can be found following the original August 30 post.

[i'm getting to them. I can't understand why you're not able to distinguish between the scientific method and the suggestible anecdotes of a novice new parent. But I CAN understand why you're not WILLING to make the distinction. If I had a racket selling $3 transistor radios for $150, I'd work hard to keep it going, too. -ed.]

Oh come on Greg, the guy is obviously a genius. Look at all the big words he used in his last comment there!

I, for one, appreciate the snappiness of Greg's banalities.

"daddytypes will remain a miniscule backwater in the blogscape"

Damn. I wish _I_ got the traffic Greg gets...

DT, this is a facinating debate on several levels:
1. It's a great example of evolving media, with you a blogger filling the role of traditional media as a critical eye. Mainstream media seemed to miss this story.
2. It's in Seattle so it might be a story for the paper.
3. It's just plain interesting.

[whew, I hoped it's at least #3. Personally, I see it as a prime example of the kind of useless advice and gear that gets foisted on unsuspecting new parents by supposed "experts" who turn out to be in for a piece of the take. Any parent who cares enough about her kid's future to wear an audio belt for however many hours a day through her pregnancy is already going to be conscientious enough to provide all the headstart and advantages a kid needs. Some day this'll make as much sense to people as planting a tree on top of a placenta: a harmless ritual without a whit of scientific grounding. -ed.]

DT is currently the 11th Google result for BabyPlus, so it looks like my backwater's bumping up against BabyPlus's.

Brent Logan is obviously not familiar with the parenting blogosphere, though he is something of a superstar in the Dan-Ackroyd-lookalike blogosphere.

[I was thinking a better-looking Garrison Keillor. I definitely owe him an apology for calling him a "geezer quack" when he's actually a "cuddly grandfather quack". -ed.]

Battle of the backwaters!

At #126,892 on all of the Internet, DaddyTypes:
http://www.alexa.com/data/details/traffic_details?q=daddytypes.com&url=daddytypes.com/

And, the challenger, at #844,581, BabyPlus:
http://www.alexa.com/data/details/traffic_details?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.babyplus.com%2F&url=www.babyplus.com/

Oooh, no chart for BabyPlus, since they've never broken the top 100k. Oh well, better luck next time.

[thanks a lot for pointing out I'm 126,892. Last week I told my mom's book club I was in the top 125k. -ed.]

Greg, if you're going to shame folks, throw up a link to the blogs plugging the device.

BoingBoing? Celebrity-Babies? Opinionated Parent? Swanky Moms? Kid Poop? Celebrity Baby Scoop? Baby Boy Blog? Baby Gadget?

But, wait! A skeptic is found in Parent Talk and sort of in Babble.


[good point. Babble's article is really well-done. Both Babble and the Parent Talk post go right to the issue of preying on insecure parents worried about shortchanging their kid somehow--call it the Baby Einstein Syndrome--but both also accept the scientific claims BabyPlus as is. That said, Babble also has a pic of a baby reading our favorite Terry Eagleton book. Really brings back the memories. -ed]

If he's not regularly publishing in journals with ISI/WoS impact factors, there's a reason, and it's not that peer review in a decent journal is that tough a mark to hit. That awful tobacco industry study on secondhand smoke, using data that the original researchers noted in print had no legitimate application to the topic, came out a few years ago in BMJ (!), for goodness sake.

You're going to a lot more effort than I would, more power to you. I figure that if WoK doesn't list a single journal in which someone published I'm dealing with either a very junior researcher or a nut. Either way, that $150 stays in my wallet.

Sorry Greg!

And worse, you're *sliding*. You were in the top 50k in the first months of 2006.

Well, it is hard to compete with LOLCats sites...

So I checked out this "Independent Clinical Trial", seriously thinking that I could perhaps perform something of a critical review and allow for some engaging of substance, but good god... what a steaming pile. Sure, it uses subject headings that might be found in a respectable, peer-reviewed journal, but come on... who seriously thinks that "Background" is appropriately addressed by listing biographical information? Thinking about it as I type, that might be the best quality of the piece... the headings.

That and it referenced "CLAMS."

g

I have always thought of the Baby Plus system as being similar to the "Babee Tenda" sales pitch ... lets make newbie parents think their kids are going to be dumb or die to sell our products to them.

Thankfully, Led Zeppelin and Metallica made my kids super geniouses and I didn't even have to wear a fanny pack radio! ;)

SO when are you going to tackle the Babee Tenda "scam"? I think that one would be interesting to read ...

Greg,

Thank you for the review of BabyPlus and your perseverance in the face of the follow-ups.

We were asked to take a look at BabyPlus for our site a while ago, and as a new site we were flattered (wow, somebody noticed us). However, in the end decided that we didn’t feel comfortable giving it any press for many of the reasons you mention. In fact, our initial review of the BabyPlus materials led us to the decision to spend our limited blogging time focusing on products that we felt presented concrete benefits and/or those that we could try firsthand. We honestly never expected to hear about BabyPlus again. And then along came Nicole Richie...

Parents, particularly new parents, are presented with an amazing array of products promising to help our kids talk earlier, get into Harvard, or even ride a bike before their peers (did you catch that one in the BabyPlus video?). We're an easy target because who doesn't want to give our child every advantage in life? It's only been recently that the average consumer has begun to examine these claims and separate the wheat from the chaff.

At the end of the day, we have to remember that parenting is about our children. And while it’s every parent's right to take advantage of opportunities to better his child, the best thing we can do is raise our children in a loving, nurturing environment. And hopefully it’ll be one that doesn't involve modeling behavior after celebrities.

Maybe this guy should hire the same PR firm that the American Association of Preschools (made that one up) uses? They seem to do a good job of scamming gullible parents out of a lot of money on the premise that their kids won't get into Harvard if they go to just any old preschool...

I'm just sayin'

[actually, I just founded it, and I am now the chairman of the American Association of Preschools. It's 1-sf in a 1,800-sf facility, but we're looking to expand. What's your question again? -ed.]

I have a pretty simple requirement for a device designed "scientifically" to do alleged measurable good: show me the statistics, research, or lab results. No one can make an informed decision otherwise; it's as critical as having a pretty picture of your product on your webpage.

If the research isn't presented, then what you're selling is feel-good, unsubstantiated frippery. Frippery has its place, but shouldn't be mistaken for science.

Good for you, DaddyTypes.

On the face of it I'd think this product is complete BS and move on b/c his bush league attempts to sound scientific give me a headache. But the fact that he actually tries to defend himself makes it comical, I think you should continue to try to draw him out.

I think I'll introduce a pet rock that when a pregnant mother carries it in her pocket teaches the baby the qualities of strength and perseverance.

re: pet rock -- good idea. And it will teach the idea that you can't take everything for granite.

Well, as I always say, if someone has the money and wants to buy something, there's ALWAYS someone willing to sell them it no matter if they need it or if it even works.

So be it a $400 sweater that should cost $40 or a "prenatal education system" for $150 that probably just won't make a difference...

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